It’s mid-January 2016, and Ben Caplan is at a Mercedes dealership in Germany getting the brakes serviced on the rental vehicle that he and his band, The Casual Smokers, have been using for their tour. It’s no surprise that it’s due for a tune-up: since landing in Europe in mid-December, they’ve played a gig nearly every night, save a short break over the holidays – and there’s no end in sight.

After the European leg of the tour wraps, Caplan, whose girlfriend, Taryn Kawaja, is also a member of his band, heads directly to the United States for a month of shows. He’ll then go home to Halifax for a five-day break before carrying on to Quebec – all this after already playing 60 shows throughout North America in the two months immediately following release of his second album, Birds with Broken Wings, in September 2015.

“It’s about performing. The only way I know how to do it as my job is to play a show every day.”

But if he’s exhausted, Caplan, isn’t letting it show. “It’s what I do – it’s about performing,” he says simply. “The only way I know how to do it as my job is to play a show every day.”

Beloved for his enthusiasm and larger-than-life stage presence (a review in The Guardian recently described him as playing “the role of oversized ringmaster to the hilt”), not to mention his exuberant beard, Caplan is clearly at home before an audience.

Trained in theatre, he mindfully pushes the boundaries when he performs, working to straddle the line between the absurd and the authentic. “People want to connect and there is something about absurdity that lets people’s guard down,” he explains, “but then you have to do something real when it’s down.”

For Caplan, that’s where songwriting comes in. “That’s what I want people to connect with,” he says, explaining that while not every song is personal, even those he describes as “intellectual experiments” are about communicating ideas, no matter how theatrical the set-up.

While immensely confident onstage, Caplan admits it took him some time to embrace his voice as a songwriter. Acquiring his first guitar as a 13-year-old (“I played it incessantly!”), he later teamed up with childhood friend Joe Girard (who also contributed to the song “Deliver Me” on Birds with Broken Wings) in his hometown of Hamilton, ON, to form a folk duo. Girard wrote the words and Caplan stuck with melodies.

In time, however, he began working out his own lyrics. “I realized it was much more exciting to sing lyrics that I had written,” Caplan recalls. By the time he moved to Halifax to attend university, he had embraced songwriting wholeheartedly. Within two years he had written the bulk of the songs that make up his first album, In the Time of Great Remembering, which was released in 2011.

Caplan has since won a whole host of award nominations (and wins for Entertainer of the Year at the Nova Scotia Music Awards in 2012 and Rising Star Recording of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards in 2013); performed three times with Symphony Nova Scotia (he proposed to his now wife onstage at one of those shows); and played at the U.K’s Glastonbury Festival, an experience he describes as a career highlight. In September 2015, his song “40 days and 40 Nights,” from his current album, spent several weeks in the Top 10 of the CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart.

On Birds with Broken Wings – produced by hip-hop klezmer singer-songwriter and producer Socalled (Josh Dolgin) – Caplan pays homage to his roots by referencing many of the melodies he heard growing up in Hamilton’s Jewish community. It’s music that he’s found resonates particularly well with enthusiastic European audiences, where his shows are selling out on a regular basis.

“There’s something about that old European folk sound that connects with people,” he says. “I think it is foreign and exotic to both European and Canadian audiences,” he explains, “but what’s exotic to the Europeans is also a little nostalgic.”

While he’s planning for a third, yet-to-be-written album (“it’s coming – it’s gotta be somewhere!” he says), Caplan is happy to be on the road, doing what he loves, learning as he goes and seeing where it takes him next. “For now, it’ll be more of this, really.”

Birds with Broken Wings (2015), Festivus Vol. 1 (EP, 2013), In The Time of Great Remembering (2011),
Publisher: N/A
SOCAN member since 2007

Some meetings can completely change your professional career by opening new creative paths. Such was the case for Québec composer and musician Denis Sanacore who, in a strange twist of fate, was offered the opportunity to create the score for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movie The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.

It all started in 2012, and turned out to be an extraordinary story that unfolded over a period of two years. Sanacore explains: “I came back from spending the weekend in Burlington with my wife, and Suzanne Girard had left a message on my voicemail. She was asking me to send some demos of my work for a possible movie project she was keeping confidential for the time being. I had three days. I was happy, but taken aback. I’d never done this before.

“The day after sending my demo in, I got another phone call inviting me to meet director Jean-Pierre Jeunet [director of Amélie]. I was floored. I showed up, my hands were frozen and my heart wanted to jump out of my chest. Jeunet told me he was charmed by my compositions on MySpace and by my demo, and that he was looking for a Québec-based composer for this co-production. He asked me to compose some music, no strings attached, and that if he liked it, he’d use it.”

“I’m doubly happy, because I created some of the music with my wife on the violin and my daughter Léa who sings on one of my favourite pieces.”

Denis Sanacore, T.S. SpivetThis proposal left the musician’s head reeling – he who, up to now, had earned a living running a music school in Saint-Hilaire, on top of performing in festivals, at weddings, and the like, alongside his wife Rachel Carreau.

Sanacore left the meeting with a copy of Jeunet’s storyboard, and melodies already swirling around in his mind. He rapidly realized the limitations of his 12-track home studio. He then headed out to Steve’s Music Store and bought a sound card and a copy of ProTools. He also signed up for a training session. “I had a lot to learn, but I was incredibly motivated,” says Sanacore.

He found inspiration directly in the characters and their emotional arcs. He created a theme for each of them, a musical signature that defined each one. And that’s when he faced his first challenges. “Transposing oneself emotionally into a character is a lot harder than you can imagine,” he says. “You must recall your own grieving. You must also be able to boil down your creative flights into very precise little chunks of time. You need to be able to stick to the core magic of a melody throughout the whole creative process.”

But Sanacore was on a roll, and he kept sending new music to the director. The two artists met again while Jeunet was in Montréal to shoot at Mel’s Sound Stages. Jeunet showed him one of the scenes to which he had attached one of his pieces. “I was blown away,” says Sanacore, wide-eyed. The pair finally reached an agreement. Jeunet confirmed to Sanacore that three of his themes will be used in the movie. But once the movie finally came out, all of the musical themes in The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet were his creations. “I’m doubly happy, because I created some of the music with my wife on the violin, and my daughter Léa, who sings on one of my favourite pieces,” says Sanacore.

What followed this wild adventure with Jeunet was just as brilliant. In 2014, Sanacore was nominated in the Best New Artist category at the World Soundtrack Awards in Belgium — one of the most prestigious awards in the field of film scoring – alongside Steven Price (Gravity) and Daniel Pemberton (Uncle). He also won the Best Film Music Award at the 2015 SOCAN Awards Gala in Montréal. And he released an instrumental record titled I Am out of the desire to re-focus himself around his own musical creations.

Creating music for a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie does not the world change… “I’m still a music teacher,” says Sanacore. “And I still play with my wife at all kinds of events. The difference now is that I have an agent in L.A. and I’ve received offers.” However, those offers he’s gotten so far are quite different from his musical instincts, and they beg one question: Should he be versatile or stick to his personal songs? Sanacore hasn’t quite found the answer yet, but he dreams of diving right back into the movie world, composing “music that opens your heart.”

Up until a few months ago, we knew Le Matos – a duo comprised of SOCAN members Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi — as one of Montréal’s best-kept secrets, whose string of releases and popular remixes ­ (most notably the electro facelift they gave to Coeur de Pirate’s “Comme des enfants”) made them darlings of the indie scene.

That was until they participated in the original score of a feature film that seems on its way to become a cult movie, Turbo Kid. The film’s ‘80s-inspired sci-fi sensibilities were tailor-made for Le Matos’ retro-futurist experimentation. With many a vintage synth, the duo pays homage to Vangelis and the movies of John Carpenter. Killing two birds with one stone, the film also burst onto the international scene thanks to the its performance on the festival circuit (Sundance, SXSW, Fantasia, to name but a few). Their work has also been recognized with a nomination at the Jutra awards in the Best Original Music category.

Their album, Chronicles of the Wasteland, to which the movie’s soundtrack was tagged, was launched in December 2015, and allowed the duo to flex its creative muscles for everyone to see, most notably with an energized vocal collaboration with London-based chanteuse Pawws.

“Currently, we’re recording the original score for a Web series titled ‘Exode’ that will air on TV5. It’s a retro-feel sci-fi that takes place behind closed doors. Once again, we are exploring our love for everything 80s, but with a less cheesy and more ambient approach,” the guys tell us what they are working on in 2016. They are also working on a live performance for Chronicles of a Wasteland as well as a handful of releases and soundtracks.